Ugly Truth, The

“The Ugly Truth,” Robert Luketic's utterly silly romantic comedy, stretches the limits of the defintion of what's retro, fluff and enjoyable. 


The calculated, embarrassing narrative is scripted by tyro Nicole Eastman and the team of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, who penned Luketic's first Hollywood effort, “Legally Blonde,” by far his best picture to date.  That 2001 movie put Reeese Witherspoon on the map, but I doubt that it would do anything positive for Katherine Heigl, who's claso credited (with her mother) as producer.


The problem with “Ugly Truth” (which is named after a  TV show) is not that it's utterly formulatic and predictable (most Hollywood's romantic comedies are), but that it lacks wit and charm, and doesn't service well its two lead actors, Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. (More about them later). 
Moreover, considering the age of the characters (and that of the actors who play them), she in her early 30s and he in his early 40s, the movie might prove offensive to both male and female viewers of a certain age–and intelligence.


The gap between indie comedies and mainstream Hollywood comedies has not been so apparently sharp as it is this summer.  This month alone, you can see small, offbeat, low-budget romances, such as “500 Days of Summer,” “Humpday,” and “Adam,” which lack stars or name-actors but are quite original and are grounded in some plausibility and realism.


With “Ugly Truth” as a chick flick for older audiences, Sony may score at the box-office with mild results during the opening weekend, after which the picture should decline rapidly.


Set in Sacramento, “Ugly Truth” introduces its protagonists in the work place, when Abby Richter (Heigl), a producer of a morning TV show whose ratings have been rapidly declining, is forced to supervise a rude and crude sex guru Mike Chadwick (Gerard Butler), hailing from a minor public access TV, in a spot that offers ultra-candid takes on the current, dismal state of the battle of the sexes.


Superficially borrowing elements from both “Pygmalion” and “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the tale depicts how a confident male (“macho pig” from Abby's POV) instructs a shrill, career-driven femme how to become more appealing, seducative, and desribale to men, in other words, how to get laid.  He puts his theory to practice, when he urges an endlessly bickering couple of hosts to acknowledge their sexually barren marriage and make amends on the air.


Early on, Abby goes on a blind date, Jim (Kevin Connolly of TV's “Entourage”), a nice enough guy, but a discussion over tap water demonstrates her real, domineering nature, and she finds herself going back home alone.  

Mike obviously touches a nerve, even if it's hard to believe that an attractive and intelligent woman like Heigl would be single and desperate, socializing in her leisure with her only reliable companon, her cat.  The cat continues to feature prominently in the plot, with reaction shots to whtever Abby does–or wears! 

In time, Mike forces Abby to admit that she has not had sex in a year (11 months to be exact), reaffirming the cliché that women can't have it all, that a successful career inevitably comes at the expense of happy private life.


We all know how the bickering couple would end, but first we have to go through the requisite motions of a series of obstacles, and a third wheel.  Enter Abby's neighbor, Colin Anderson (Eric Winter), the seemingly ideal man, sensitive, handsome, with gorgeous body, inviting smile and flawless white teeth, a successful surgeon who conveniently lives in the same complex.  Abby meets him one nigth, “accidentally,” while trying to rescue her cat from a tree, wearing her sexy lingerie.  Woudn't you know it that, hanging upside down, she'll expose her underwear and her face will be right at the level of his crutch, with the poor guy, just after a shower, losing his towel during his recue mission.


The second reel consists of a series of lessons given by Mike, in an effort to make Abby look and sound better.  They range from “Never talk about your problems” and “Fake orgazm” to “Change your look,” which allows the filmmakers to insert the obligatory montage of a shopping spree, including a frank talk at a store about bras that display boobs in a friendly and inviting yet not too aggressive way; even the middle-aged saleswoman wears it proudly.

In the next chapter, paying homage to “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Mike supervises via microphone from a distance Abby's date with her doctor at a sports game.  Wouldn't you know it that there will be faux pas and Abby would repeat words that were not intended for her.  Before long, trying to clean a stain from Colin's khaki pants, she leans down on him in what looks (from a distance and projected live on a big screen, unbeknownst to the duo) like a hand and a blow job.

The comedy sinks to a low level of crass in a restaurant scene, attended by all the participants, in which Abby is accidentally wearing vibrating underwear (a present from Mike).  Wouldn't you know it that she would lose the vibrator, a kid next table would find and begin playing with it and Abby would start moaning, groaning and climaxing in a scene that makes Meg Ryan's famous orgazm monologue in a restaurant in “When Harry Met Sally” a model of subtlety and finesse.

The movie's concession to “progress” and sexual mores of the 21st century comes mid-way, when Abby finally utters the word cock, and not once but four times, aiming to prove her newly acquired mettle.  “Shocking” lingo is interspersed throughout the film, as when the sexually frusrated TV host tells her aloof husband, “the only thing that's bitter and angry is my untouched vagina.”


Still better-known fro her TV work (“Grey's Anatomy”) Heigl has been trying to cross over into mainstream Hollywood, but so far she has chosen the wrong vehicles (remember “27 Dresses”?).  In Judd Apatow's “Knocked-Up,” she gave a decent performance, but ultimately the movie belonged to the boys.  Here, as the nominal star, she overacts and comes stronger than most of the tough girls of screwball comedy (Hepburn, Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell).  It doesn't help that Heigl doesn't look particularly good, before or after her physical and emotional transformation.


With appearances in “Phantom of the Opera” and “300,” the gifted Butler has been circling around stardom for some time, but it's doubtful that his role here, as a charming macho, would do the trick.  Unlike Heigl, Butler is far more appealing when he's rude (on and off the air), direct, and aggressive.  However, the movie makes the mistake of softening his character in an unconvincing, sentimental way, and we are disappointed when he relates his bad history with women (lumping them into categories of “co-dependet,” “narcissistic,” and other catchphrases) before declarings his love for her (again in public).


It was fun when the women in “Sex and the City” exposed the abusrdities of the urban dating game and the contradictions in political correctness, but they did it with charm in a show that originated over a decade ago.   But to produce such a silly comedy as “Ugly Truth” in 2009 is inexcusable.  What are we to make of Mike's view–and of the movie's moral—that the fantasy woman for most men is one who's “a saint and a sinner,” “a librarian and a stripper.”  

Early on, while in an angry mode and hating Mike, the disgusted Abby complains to her boss, “He represents everything that's wrong with TV and society.”  But what “Ugly Truth” really shows is what's wrong with mainstream Hollywood romantic comedies.


Abby (Katherine Heigl)
Mike (Gerard Butler)
Colin (Eric Winter)
Larry (John Michael Higgins)

Bree Turner

Nick Searcy

Kevin Connolly

Cheryl Hines

Bonnie Somerville

Yvette Nicole Brown

Nate Corddry

Noah Matthews



A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation in association with Relativity Media of a Lakeshore Entertainment/Steven Reuther production.

Produced by Reuther, Kimberly di Bonaventura, Deborah Jelin Newmyer, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi.

Executive producers, Andre Lamal, Eric Reid, Katherine Heigl, Nancy Heigl, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, Ryan Kavanaugh.

Directed by Robert Luketic.

Screenplay, Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith; story, Eastman.
Camera, Russell Carpenter.

Editor, Lisa Zeno Churgin.

Music, Aaron Zigman.

Production designer, Missy Stewart.

Art director, Will Hawkins.

Set designer, Sarah Contant; set decorator, Kathy Lucas.

Costume designer, Betsy Heimann.

Sound, Steven A. Morrow; supervising sound editor, Michael Babcock; supervising sound mixers, Steve Pederson, Babcock.

MPAA Rating: R.

Running time: 94 Minutes